Camus, God, and Process Thought

by James Goss

James Goss, whose area of interest is religion and literature, is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at California State University at Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, California 91324.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 114-128, Vol. 4, Number 2, Summer, 1974. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Goss is not concerned here with the validity of Whitehead’s conception of God, but rather to demonstrate that Camus’ writings leave open the possibility of God as understood by Whitehead, and that Camus’ thoughts on rebellion and its source in the beauty of nature are compatible with and made consistent by a process notion of God.

In a programmatic essay entitled "Whitehead Without God" (PPCT 305-28), Donald W. Sherburne sets out to demonstrate that a viable, coherent metaphysical system can be maintained by shifting the role assigned to God in Whitehead’s cosmology to other factors within that scheme. John Cobb, on the other hand, denies that "Whitehead without God" has coherency, at least as presented by Sherburne, and the two Whiteheadians carry out their debate in issues of this journal (PS 1:91-113, 2:277-95, 3:27-40). Another aspect of Sherburne’s original thesis, on which he touches only briefly, also calls for serious discussion: namely, that the removal of God from Whitehead’s thought might make possible a rapprochement with the existentialists, especially Camus and Sartre.

Sherburne, in contrast to other Whiteheadians and in agreement with the "existentialists," denies that the value of life depends upon a God who either provides men with a general confidence about the final worth of life (Ogden) or with a sense of the worthwhileness of the present moment whatever its final outcome (Cobb). He insists that God could be removed from Whitehead’s system and there would still remain the value of "experience as immediately felt by temporal subjects" (PPCT 325). His thesis is that Whitehead’s Christian environment, not any necessary sytematic development, may be responsible for Whitehead’s "God-talk." Since "God-talk" has lost its lure for many men, Sherburne proposes a merger between Whitehead sans God and existentialists sans ennui.

Since Whitehead wrote, Camus and Sartre have appeared on the scene. I feel that what must be done is to bring the "absurd hero" within the context of a revised, naturalistic, neo-Whiteheadian ontology -- this merger will dispel the harshness of bleak despair from the one position and the remnants of parsonage Victorianism from the other as it links creative insecurity, adventure, with a more penetrating metaphysical analysis than the existentialists were ever able to achieve. (PPCT 325)

It is inaccurate, however, to link Camus to Sartre or to a position of "bleak despair." The two men held disparate points of view and Camus’ "invincible summer" warms even the bleakest winter of discontent. But the focal point of this essay is not to chide Sherburne for lumping Camus and Sartre together. Rather I wish to test the assumption that Camus’ thought does not permit a notion of God. To the contrary, I think that a "Camus with God" is not only possible within his stated views, but that it is compatible with a process notion of God.

When one reads the many critics who discuss Camus’ "atheism," or his "new humanism," or his Lack of "eternal values," or even Camus’ own attacks upon the Christian God, it is astonishing to read what he states to be his "rebel’s" true intention: "He is seeking, without knowing it, morality or the sacred. Rebellion, though it is blind, is a form of asceticism. Therefore, if the rebel blasphemes, it is in the hope of finding a new god" (Rb 101). The rebel, continues Camus, "staggers under the shock of the first and most profound of all religious experiences, but it is a disenchanted religious experience." The religious experience is disappointing because no "new god" is forthcoming. To understand why, it is crucial to distinguish the reasons for the rebel’s blasphemy against the "old god" from the clues he offers concerning the "new god’s" arrival. To concentrate upon the "old," as Camus and his interpreters do, is to witness the dismantlement of any supernaturalistic God. However, to focus upon the "new" is to participate in Camus’ nascent "naming of the god," a god who in gestation promises to belong to the "family" of process thought.

Camus’ objections to a God are based upon two contentions, one negative and one positive. First, Camus cannot reconcile the fact of evil and suffering with the claim of God’s goodness and omnipotence. He sums up what appear to him to be the only alternatives for God: either God is "all-powerful and malevolent" or else "benevolent and sterile" (Rb 287). If God is omnipotent, then Camus holds God criminally responsible for the injustice perpetrated against men by fate and death. On the other hand, if God is just and good, the amount of evil in the world testifies to God’s inability to establish justice in his creation. In neither case is God worthy of human devotion. Secondly, Camus wishes to affirm without equivocation the value of the temporal moment. His concern is that the existence of an eternal God would have the effect of diminishing the value of existence. Camus’ objection to any future goal to judge the present, whether a Christian’s hope for immortality or a Marxist’s dream of a future classless society, is that it leads to an "ideal of the spirit" that fails to appreciate the temporal enjoyment of bodily existence. To believe in an eternal God, for Camus, is to commit oneself to a static, absolute value that men are expected to imitate. In the name of self-creation and temporal value Camus curses God.

Camus’ objections to God did not lead him to atheism, as he states continually throughout his writings, but rather to blasphemy. As we have indicated, this blasphemy was uttered in the hope of finding a "new god." Discovering none, Camus affirms the one value of which he felt certain -- man. In his July, 1944, "Letter to a German Friend," which many critics take to be definitive of Camus’ final position, he states, "I continue to believe that this world has no ultimate meaning. But I know that something in it has a meaning and that is man" (RRD 28). There appears to be little room for a "new god" in the face of such an unequivocal statement, and Camus’ own position appears to be that of Kaliayev in The Just Assassins. Whereas Kaliayev crosses himself when he passes an icon, he is no churchgoer; he believes that "God can’t do anything to help; justice is our concern" (C 278). Likewise Camus is sensitive to the "sacred," but faced with God’s silence, he concerns himself with human love and justice. The tale he relates about Saint Dimitri could serve as the paradigm for Camus’ own humanism:

He had made a date with God, far out in the steppes. When he was on his way to keep the appointment he came on a peasant whose cart was stuck in the mud. And Saint Dimitri stopped to help him. The mud was thick and the wheels were so deeply sunk that it took him the best part of an hour, helping to pull the cart out. When this was done Dimitri made haste to the appointed place. But he was too late. God had left. (C 278)

If such parables and pronouncements were the extent of Camus’ "godtalk," then any God in Camus’ literature would be merely a deus absconditus. The burden of this essay is to show that Camus consciously affirmed something more, but nothing less, than the value of men and that this "something more" is compatible with a "process God."

There have been several attempts to compare Camus’ thoughts with a conception of God, and these discussions may be classified into three groups. First, there are those who believe that the Tendenz of Camus’ works moved steadily toward Christian conversion, or at least toward a genuine appreciation of a life of grace in a broken world. Bernard Murchland, for example, presents a sensitive depiction of Camus’ thought in the light of Catholicism and concludes that perhaps Camus’ stress upon the necessity for a temporal revolution is like that which some believers claim is a "guarantee of eternal salvation." 1 Camus, however, never shows any interest in "eternal salvation," and it is highly unlikely that Camus was on his way down the trail blazed by Eliot and Auden.

A second type of response to Camus is to den)’ that his attack upon God really hits the mark. The most notorious assertion to this effect is that of B. XV. B. Lewis, who claims that Camus actually objected to

an extreme, unmodulated other-worldliness (or afterworldliness): that aspect -- and it was by no means the determining aspect -- of medieval Christianity that became the core of early Protestantism and of its doctrinaire antagonism to the natural and human. The God whom Camus, following Nietzsche, has declared dead was a God who in fact had not been alive very long; he had been created in the polemics of Martin Luther. (TPS 79)

While Lewis’s remarks do not indicate any careful reading of Luther, it is true that Camus rejects a notion of "salvation by faith alone" on the grounds that it eliminates human freedom and, to that extent, would not accept the God of Luther, Calvin, or the later Augustine. But Lewis’s contention that Camus’ remarks do not touch the "greater and more ancient" tradition represented by Thomism, either in St. Thomas or in Maritain, misses the mark (TPS 302n24). Camus could never accept any God "who is totally separated from history" (Rb 288), and since Thomas believed God to be immutable and unaffected by history, Camus’ objections to "god-talk" include Thomism.

A third group of interpreters has sought to establish a point of contact between Camus’ insights and those of contemporary theology. Schubert Ogden, for example, argues that the most fundamental use of the word "God" is to refer to "the objective ground in reality itself of our ineradicable confidence in the final worth of our existence (RG 37). Since Camus’ mature writings stress the necessity of resisting anything in nature or history that oppresses men, Ogden relates this basic confidence in the worthwhileness of human existence to a tacit belief in God.

A similar but more ambitious attempt to argue for a "god concept" in Camus’ works, upon which Ogden builds and which is fruitful for an extended discussion, is the effort of Nathan Scott to bring Camus into dialogue with Paul Tillich. Scott’s contention is that what Tillich describes as "absolute faith" is contained implicitly within Camus’ affirmation of life. Drawing upon The Courage To Be, Scott is aware of three characteristics of "absolute faith": (1) To live in the power of being that enables a person to withstand the onslaughts of guilt, death, and meaninglessness; (2) To experience the dependence of all manifestations of nonbeing upon being, such as the dependence of meaninglessness upon meaning, thereby testifying to the ultimacy of being-itself; and (3) To accept being accepted in spite of one’s separation from the power of being (AC 95f). Scott’s claim that perhaps Camus knew "something that approximates the Christian experience of justification" and the "God above the God of theism" rests upon the demonstration that the characteristics of absolute faith are manifest in Camus’ works. The cautious conclusion arrived at by Scott is that Tillich’s depiction "seems very nearly to describe Camus’ affirming vision of life (AC 96). We could estimate the force of Scott’s "very nearly" better if he offered a systematic presentation of Camus’ statements to indicate how conscious he was of "the power of being" in the face of nonbeing. Instead Scott relies largely upon inference to arrive at some insightful parallels.

Scott is very persuasive when demonstrating that Camus is aware of the first characteristic of absolute faith. It seems clear that Camus faced the full consequences of death, meaninglessness, and guilt. The last he accepted as a result of his involvement in the terrors of the second world war (described in The Plague and The Rebel) and the other two when he had to face the possibility of death from tuberculosis (discussed in his earliest writings). Camus steadfastly affirms the value of life in spite of personal and historical tragedy. This affirmation is the basic confidence that Ogden associates with a belief in God.

The existence in Camus’ literature of Tillich’s second and third characteristics of absolute faith, however, is less clear in Scott’s analysis. Indeed, there is little discussion that indicates that Camus is aware of the dependence of nonbeing on being. Yet Camus does affirm in The Rebel that an absolute negation leads to at least one affirmation: namely, that the assertion of absolute negation must itself be thought valid by the one asserting it. For Camus, then, absolute negation is self-contradictory, which means that some meaning must exist necessarily under any condition. Such a conclusion might lead to the priority of being over non-being as Tillich’s second characteristic demands, but Camus never makes such an inference.

With respect to the third characteristic, it is doubtful whether Camus ever felt the experience of "accepting being accepted." Camus says that even though the world crushes men in death, it does so with a ‘tender indifference."’ "Being" does not accept men; it lacks any positive or negative relationship to human aspirations. However, in fairness to Scott’s presentation, Camus does come "close" to "accepting acceptance" at Tipasa, where the overwhelming beauty of the setting lures Camus into an experience where he feels his self is given to him by the natural beauty. But he confesses that even in such beauty, he "shall never come close enough to the world" (L 68). For whatever reasons, Camus never affirms "being accepted"; he remains a "stranger" to the "ground of the whole." Scott’s attempt to link Camus with Tillich’s "absolute faith," so as to demonstrate that "perhaps" Camus did not live completely outside of what Christians mean by grace, is unconvincing. Scott leads us, instead, to accept Camus as a humanist who is wary of transcendence, for Scott says that Camus "remained unconvinced that human life is steadied and protected by anything transcendent to itself" (AC 90). But Camus’ "humanism" undergoes major revisions in his writings after 1945, and he ends up, as we will demonstrate, advocating a "transcendence" to steady human existence.

World War II and its aftermath had profound effects on the development of Camus’ thought and art. He became preoccupied with finding some basis apart from man to counter the terrible brutality of Nazism and Stalinism. If values are merely the results of action through time, he asks, and have no validity independent of history, how does one judge the direction of current events? If the will determines value and the will wills murder, what speaks against it? Camus is confronted with a dilemma: he does not wish to baptize history because history has resulted in the reign of terror; he does want to advocate absolute values independent of time, for that would reconstitute the "old god" that negates human creativity. To deify history is to enslave man to historical events; to deify any absolute value appears to enslave man to a superior power. For Camus either solution is nihilistic and, above all, he wishes to move beyond nihilism. To understand how Camus resolves his conflict is, at the same time, to see the emergence of the "something more" that transcends man.

In his notebook, toward the end of 1946, Camus writes: "If everything can be reduced to man and to history, I wonder where is the place: of nature -- of love -- of music -- of art" (N 148). His own rich aesthetic sensitivity led Camus to perceive in beauty the soil to grow a just civilization. In "Helen’s Exile," written in 1948, he presents the notion of beauty as a solution to European nihilism, and in The Rebel, published in 1951, he develops the insights of his earlier essay. The invocation of Helen as the positive archetype to counter the ugliness of war-torn Europe reveals Camus’ preference for those ancient Greeks who would rather die for "beauty" than for a display of a will-to-power.3 In contrast to a Europe bent upon "absolute justice" enforced by tanks, Camus presents the Hellenes as conceiving of a justice that sets limits "even upon the physical universe itself" (L 149). He supports Heracitus’ supposition: "The sun will not go beyond its bounds, for otherwise the Furies who watch over justice will find it out" (L 149; Rb 296). Nature reveals that limits exist even if men temporarily ignore them. To return to the contemplation of nature is, therefore, to rediscover a balance to oppose the immoderateness of history and to appreciate anew a beauty that provides men with a sense of permanence. Camus believes that the source for sane behavior is not found in unruly cities, but in the sea, the hills and in evening meditations upon natural beauty. Such claims indicate that Camus sought a ground for value that transcends human existence. That value somehow resides in the natural order of things and testifies to the a priori existence of limits that Camus hopes will inspire men to behave justly. The problem with this claim is that it contradicts Camus’ statements on what comprises "nature" apart from man.

The physical universe, as Camus describes it, is a res extensa -- body, matter and external vastness -- that is without reason or purpose. "The very forces of matter in their blind advance, impose their own limits," is typical of Camus’ express statements (Rb 295). Limit, order, and beauty in nature, therefore, are attributed to pure chance. To this extent, he accepts a godless, Cartesian dualism along with Sartre, with whom he otherwise does not wish to be identified. Camus uses the distinction between men, who are "thinking" creatures, and matter, which is "nonreasonable," to develop his notion of the absurd. Since he retains his dualistic position throughout his works, his statements in The Myth of Sisyphus, which reveal the mind-matter dichotomy at the heart of his position, may be taken as definitive.

The mind’s deepest desire, according to Camus, is to seek unity, clarity and familiarity in the world. Its function as mind is not satisfied until it reduces the world to terms of thought--something human. But man’s nostalgia to be at home in the universe is futile; the gap between man and the indifference of nature cannot be closed. "If man recognized that the universe like him can love and suffer, he would be reconciled" (MS 13). But it does not, so man will forever be exiled in a nonhuman world. Thrown into an unintelligible existence, man is fated to live in the face of the absurd, which is the "confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world" (MS 21). Even the beauty of nature is alien and dense in The Myth of Sisyphus. Since we are not like stones, or trees, or brilliant landscapes, we use images in an attempt to overcome nature’s strangeness. But our images lack the power to make the world clear. With that failure, the "world evades us because it becomes itself again" (MS 11). ‘What the world is in itself cannot be known-phenomena lack any quality or principles. Consequently, Camus admits that "at the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman, and these hills, the softness of the sky, the outline of these trees at this minute lose the illusory meaning with which we had clothed them" (MS 11). The world never belongs to man. Scientists buoy our longing for clarity by enumerating laws and speaking of atoms and electrons, but, laments Camus even they are reduced to using the "poetry" of planetary systems, i.e., they Cannot rationally seize the reality they study. Since phenomena cannot be grasped by the mind, all man can accomplish is phenomenological description that, asserts Camus, teaches nothing (MS 15). Without external justification for his existence, man is de trop. Camus’ adherence to this mind-matter dualism, however, leaves his rebel’s discovery of a "living transcendence" that guarantees limits in nature and human behavior in perilous intellectual limbo.

If nature is indifferent and moves blindly through time, its purposelessness could hardly provide an "example" for human purpose. This "crisis" in Camus’ position is characterized by Hans Jonas who, comparing the nihilism of existentialist thought to that of Gnosticism, states:

A universe without an intrinsic hierarchy of being, as the Copernican universe is, leaves values ontologically unsupported, and the self is thrown back entirely upon itself in its quest for meaning and value. Meaning is no longer found but is "conferred." Values are no longer beheld in the vision of objective reality, but are posited as feats of valuation. (PL 215)

After World War II, Camus sought to escape from this reduction of all value to something conferred by men in history. To avoid purely "subjectivistic" values, Camus, via the Greeks, posited the limits and beauty of "objective" nature as man’s sure guide. Yet, he never abandoned the dualism of his earlier writings; he continued to hold to a "blind" universe. The inconsistency of his position results from his maintaining two mutually incompatible philosophical positions: a godless Cartesianism that portrays the physical universe without quality and the Greek notion that value is grounded in physis. Camus’ sympathy with the former stance leads to the denial of any value in nature; the latter explains his claim that beauty and limit are rooted in physis. To maintain both, as Camus does, leaves ambiguous what value rooted in nature is.

If we wish to remove the inconsistency in Camus’ thought and to remain within the options he provides, we may take one of two courses of action. First, we could systematically "correct" all of Camus’ claims that there is a value transcending man by demonstrating that all statements about beauty and limit are "subjective" and have no foundation apart from human consciousness. The result might bring Camus into agreement with Sartre and remain consistent to the position enunciated in The Myth of Sisyphus. But such an accomplishment would run counter to the tendency of Camus to argue for the existence of a priori values. Camus, probably with Sartre in mind, rejects the notion that existence always precedes essence (Rb 296) and states that there is a creative source for rebellion against injustice in a "moral or metaphysical rule to balance the insanity of history" (Rb 251). The artist, who dedicates himself to beauty, "teaches us that man cannot be explained by history alone and that he also finds a reason for his existence in the order of nature. For him, the great god Pan is not dead" (Rb 276). To ignore nature and beauty is to turn history into a desert, void of all that which quenches a man’s thirst for grandeur and of that which makes possible a judgment upon human violence. Previously, I stated that Camus, following Nietzsche, rejected God on the grounds that any transcendent value might diminish temporal significance. However, when Camus advocates beauty to oppose the arrogance of contemporary history, he arrives at this surprising conclusion:

Nietzsche could deny any form of transcendence, whether moral or divine, by saying that transcendence drove one to slander this world and this life. But perhaps there is a living transcendence, of which beauty carries the promise, which can make this mortal and limited world preferable to and more appealing than any other. (Rb 258)

Rather than seeing any form of transcendence as a threat to the value of temporal existence, Camus advocates a transcendence so as to guarantee the value of this life! Such statements indicate that a "Sartrean" dualism of "Being-in-itself" opposed to "Being-for-itself" is not a solution to Camus’ search for quality in nature.

The second way to bring consistency to Camus’ theories, therefore, is to find a "transcendence" that provides a comprehensive unity to overcome the dualism of mind-matter. Such a systematization might result in what Sherburne calls a "neo-Whiteheadian naturalism," or it might require some notion of God -- perhaps Tillich’s "God beyond God" or a Whiteheadian theism. The issue is whether there is any evidence to suggest which of these "transcendents" is more compatible with Camus’ expressed views. Since he raises the claim of a "living transcendence" in the context of a discussion on nature and ethics, an analysis of Camus’ statements on the existence of value in nature may provide us with an understanding of how he conceives this transcendence.

While Camus advances the theory of a living value rooted in nature, he denies that this value is "static,"4 that is, he denies that it has fixed, concrete content (Rb 252; N 159). If this living value is not static, then what is it? Unfortunately, Camus is not altogether clear on what he means. We can grasp, however, what he seeks to deny. In the summer of 1947, Camus records his distrust of "static virtue" and of his desire to find a middle course between total negation, on the one hand, and an affirmation that would explain away the enigma of existence, on the other. May one, he muses, legitimately have his "being in history while referring to values that go beyond history" (N 159)? A partial answer to this question is given in The Rebel. There Camus states that he cannot accept history barren of all transcendence, yet he will not give credence to a God removed from the adventure of history (Rb 288). The rebel, who discovers the source of rebellion in nature, advocates a morality which

far from obeying abstract principles, discovers them only in the heat of battle and in the incessant movement of contradiction. Nothing justifies the assertion that these principles have existed eternally; it is of no use to declare that they will one day exist. But they do exist, in the very period in which we exist. With us, and throughout all history, they deny servitude, falsehood, and terror. (Rb 283)

Camus rejects "static," eternally existing values, for they would remain fixed and unaffected by history; he prefers a "situation ethics" where free men can exercise novel solutions to problems. By denying that the value in nature is static, Camus wishes to insure man against the possibility that a theocracy, for example, could assert rules based upon "eternal principles" to suppress freedom. For Camus the absence of fixed laws means that men must constantly struggle to create justice relative to existing historical conditions.

Camus’ "middle position," while not carefully developed, suggests the following stance: neither natural beauty nor the human decisions that constitute history are unaffected by change. The sun one day will burn out and men will fluctuate in their moral choices. As the beauty found in nature is subject to some process, so the values affirmed by men are relative to the sway of historical events. But if there is only change, and nothing is stable, one could not appeal to an enduring natural beauty to melt the icy despair of Europe. Consequently, Camus believes that there must be stability along with change: "Being can only prove itself in becoming, and becoming is nothing without being. The world is not purely fixed; nor is it only movement. It is both movement and stability" (Rb 296). But whatever is stable cannot be so constituted that it determines in advance how men must act. For Camus, natural beauty provides the "form" for justice to which men add the "content."

Camus’ notion of "dynamic" value is derived from his denial, on the one hand, of absolutes that stultify novelty and from his denial, on the other, that value exists only in human actions. But what changes and what endures is left in doubt. He wishes to associate novelty with men in history and stability with natural beauty, yet he never indicates how the latter can be without content and still serve as a model for society. Instead, Camus only asserts what he feels is necessary: that man should inculcate into society the example set by beauty in nature, so that the wasteland of Europe will flourish into an oasis.

In upholding beauty, we prepare the way of a renaissance when civilization will center its reflexion, far from the explicit principles and degraded values of history, on this living virtue upon which is founded the common dignity of the world and man, and which we have to define now in the face of a world that insults it. (Rb 277)

It is this inability to "define" or clarify what he means that leaves Camus’ search confused. He is certain that human greatness lies in transforming the beauty contemplated in nature into whatever relative justice a civilization requires. But the unanswered question remains: how does Camus account for the existence of the dynamic "living virtue" that exhibits itself in the limits, order, and beauty of nature? Regrettably, his idea of dynamic value grounded in physis is not a coherent explanation of his vision of transcendence, even though it does remind us of Camus unwavering objection to any notion of an immutable transcendence that deprecates temporality or lessens human freedom and responsibility. However, there is another concept that undergoes a development throughout Camus’ works similar to that of value and that promises to shed light on what kind of transcendence is acceptable to him -- namely, art. Let us, then, trace his conception of art from his position in The Myth of Sisyphus to that in The Rebel.

Phenomenological description, not rational explanation, is all man can accomplish in The Myth of Sisyphus, so in that work art is only a matter of "miming" and "repeating." Art’s function is not to explain anything, or to give quality to a world that has none, but to multiply the quantity of experiences. "Absurd heros," such as Don Juan, know that there is neither meaning nor enduring excellence in life, so they seek to increase the number of their adventures to compensate for the absence of any quality. Art is defined, therefore, as "a sort of monotonous and passionate repetition of the schemes already orchestrated by the world" (MS 70). The intelligence of the artist is employed in the, effort to produce beauty, but lucid thought adds no deeper meaning to what is described; it helps only to select what is to be "mimed." "The work of art is born of the refusal of the intelligence to reason the concrete. It marks the triumph of the flesh" (MS 72). Art contains no lessons; it creates no new worlds. The absurd work of art reveals the limits of the mind and the powerlessness of reason to do more than cover experiences with images. Since thought is incapable of refining reality, it must be content in both art and philosophy to imitate phenomena.

In The Rebel, however, Camus no longer holds to a "mimic" or descriptive theory of art; art now is comparable in purpose to rebellion.

In every rebellion is to be found the metaphysical demand for unity, the impossibility of capturing it, and the construction of a substitute universe. Rebellion, from this point, of view, is a fabricator of universes. This also defines art. (Rb 255)

Art is motivated by a passion to give unity to the world, to find formulas or attitudes to give experience meaning. The rebel’s denial of what the world is or was in order to create a vision of what the world might be is similar to his blasphemy against the "old god" in the hope of finding a "new" one. In his new vision, the rebel captures beauty; for this beauty to exist in an art work, Camus claims that it must have style.

Style, as it is defined in The Rebel, is the "correction which the artist imposes by his language and by a redistribution of elements of reality" and gives the "re-created universe its unity and boundaries" (Rb 269). Style transforms and reconstructs the world, not by totally denying the world, but by exhalting certain of its aspects. Camus objects to two types of art: total realism and pure formalism. Realistic art would be nothing but a sterile repetition of creation (the type of art advocated in The Myth of Sisyphus!). Since the description of one moment would be endless, realistic art is considered totalitarian, i.e., it seeks to conquer the world (One of the absurd heros in The Myth of Sisyphus is the conqueror!). However, the rebel seeks the unity, not the totality, of the world. Realistic art fails because it does not deny enough of reality. Formal art, to the contrary, denies too much. It seeks to banish all reality to arrive at a "subjective" abstraction. If realism renounces the creative aspect of the mind, then formalism loses sight of the value of temporal existence. Both are nihilistic for Camus. It art, he says, "comes to the point of rejecting or affirming nothing but reality, it denies itself each time either by absolute negation or by absolute affirmation" (Rb 268). His refusal to accept either an "objective" or a "subjective" art is equivalent to the rebel’s search for a value that transcends history but which does not diminish human freedom and creativity. The definition of art as the effort to exalt some beauty in nature, but not to enslave man to mere imitation, is Camus’ aesthetic equivalent to the notion of a dynamic value in nature. He prefers a position that allows "external reality" and human freedom to interact in both the creation of art and ethics, even though he fails to justify such a dialogue philosophically.

While his understanding of dynamic value remains ill-defined, he gives specific requirements for style:

Whatever may be the chosen point of view of an artist, one principle remains common to all creators: stylization which supposes the simultaneity of all reality and the mind that gives reality its form. Through style, the creative effort reconstructs the world, and always with the same slight distortion that is the mark of both art and protest. (Rb 271)

Style, which is necessary for beauty, and rebellion, which is necessary for value, require reality and mind. If either reality or mind is excluded, then both art and rebellion become nihilistic. If beauty is to be grounded in nature, as Camus states throughout his later writings, then nature must include "mind" and not be merely blind matter in motion. At one point Camus allows for just such a possibility. In "Helen’s Exile," while criticizing "modern philosophers" and "Messianic forces" that ignore the a priori existence of value in nature, Camus declares: "Nature is still there, nevertheless. Her calm skies and her reason oppose the folly of men" (L 151f). Although this reference to "reason" in nature does not counterbalance all of Camus’ statements to the contrary, it does reveal the ingredient that is needed if Camus’ search for the sanction of human action in nature’s limits is to be coherent.

If style can be attributed to some aspects of reality independent of man -- Camus need not attribute beauty to all aspects of nature -- without reference to an "artist-God," then a naturalistic or pantheistic interpretation of Camus is possible. But the thrust of Camus’ remarks is to support the notion that beauty requires an artist who imposes style on the world to give it a meaning it otherwise would lack. In this context Camus support Shelley’s claim that, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" (Rb 269). On the basis of such remarks, it seems reasonable to conclude that an "artist-rebel" God could resolve Camus’ ambiguity and give birth to the "new god" his rebel seeks.

The compatibility of an "artist-rebel" God with the process theism of Whitehead may now be demonstrated. First, Whitehead’s system provides a comprehensive unity to overcome the subject-object dualism that prohibits Camus from "defining" a value that is grounded in nature. Using human experience as a model to depict the nature of reality, Whitehead argues that every actuality (i.e., every actual event) has both a present subjective immediacy and a past objectivity. Those actual events, or groupings of events, dominated by repetition of the past, such as rocks, would have the appearance of permanence and stability. Those events, or grouping of events, dominated by subjective origination, such as men, would demonstrate greater novelty or change. Even though Camus’ notion of the absurd would be mitigated by Whitehead’s position (nature would not be without "reason"), the absurd experience would not cease to be relevant. Nature would still feel alien to a man struggling with his self-identity and the "permanence" of the stars would still be a reminder of a man’s fragile mortality. Nature, however, would no longer be "dead" as it is in Camus’ thought, but rather "alive" as it is in Camus’ story, "The Growing Stone."

Secondly, Whitehead’s insistence that only actualities exist, matched by Camus’ commitment to temporal life, helps to clarify the problem of dynamic value in Camus’ statements. Since abstract principles or rules (eternal objects) have no causal efficacy in themselves for Whitehead, they would require some actual entity to envision and to incarnate them. Accordingly, if beauty exists in nature, as Camus states, then something actual would be the cause. Otherwise his notion of "dynamic beauty" would be lacking totally in concreteness; it would be what he calls "pure formalism" and, therefore, nihilistic. Furthermore, if this natural beauty is to serve as the example for civilization, it must have "positive" content. Otherwise what is to prevent a man from taking Camus’ advice to contemplate nature and arriving at the conclusion that the survival of the fittest is most natural? If the strongest creatures survive in nature, then is it not natural for the state to claim that might makes right? It seems self-evident that Camus’ notion of beauty presupposes style and requires a hierarchy of values in which the "beauty" that aids man has to exhibit unity, freedom, justice, and love! But in what agency or agencies is such an ordering located if it is to transcend man? Apparently, this kind of question led Whitehead to "god-talk." A "Whitehead without God" would not serve Camus’ purpose unless it demonstrates how the individual actualities are able to cooperate with each other throughout the universe so as to establish in nature a model for human unity and justice. Camus’ hesitance to have a God responsible for beauty is his objection to the "old god" that led to the devaluation of human creativity. However, there is nothing in Camus’ writings that speaks against a conception of God that could account for the hierarchy of value in nature and also insure the freedom and value of human existence.

Finally, then, ‘Whitehead’s delineation of God provides a link between natural beauty and human dignity, and also untangles the problem of theodicy. Since reality for Whitehead is composed of countless actualities each with its own power, there can be no single entity that is omnipotent. God, as an actual entity, or a society of actual entities, would be limited by the power in all occasions. Evil would be caused by the failure of innumerable centers of power to reach full self-actualization or to harmonize fully with one another. For example, cancer cells do not "cooperate" with normal cells and the lack of harmony may bring death. God, Whitehead states, may seek to persuade creatures to actualize themselves or to work toward harmonious solidarity with others, but God cannot coerce them to do so. A man, for instance, would always retain some freedom and responsibility for his self-creation and for the civilization he helps to build. Both Camus and Whitehead, therefore, oppose the notion of God’s omnipotence. Since Camus states that only an all-powerful God could be held accountable for nature’s crimes against man, his bitter denunciation of natural injustice is not an objection against Whitehead’s limited God. For Camus, the one matter that is at stake in Whitehead’s position is whether such a limited God is "sterile. "To answer this query, it is helpful to develop the notion of God as rebel-artist.

According to Camus, one function of the artist is to envision a world that has unity and to create a work that embodies that ideal. Likewise Whitehead’s God perceives all possible worlds in his primordial nature and attempts to lure all entities into a self-actualization that would bring greater unity to the universe. God, as conceived by Whitehead, would encourage the rebel’s quest for human solidarity, but there is a significant difference between Camus’ artist and Whitehead’s God. While a novelist’s artistry is limited "only" by his own imagination and abilities, God as artist is limited by the lack of sensitivity or concern on the part of the creatures God seeks to persuade. That God never accomplishes all that is envisioned does not mean that God is sterile, for to have power means to share in the development of one’s "sell" and to effect the becoming of subsequent actualities. A process God is involved with the world in an adventure to satisfy himself and all others by effecting the realization of maximum beauty and truth. We must conceive the Divine Eros as the active entertainment of all ideals, with the urge to their finite realization, each in its due season. Thus a process must be inherent in God’s nature, whereby his infinity is acquiring realization" (AI 357). A process God who is associated with the total self-actualization of all individuals would be limited, benevolent and powerful. But such a God cannot be apathos as classical theologians maintained.

For Whitehead, God is not a detached artist who is unaffected by the course of events. He participates in the success or failure of each entity to realize its own maximum beauty and truth. This means that Gods own life is at stake in the process of reality. When the rebel blasphemes against the "old god" who sanctions the established order ruled over by death, it is to make God share "in the same humiliating adventure as mankind’s" (Rb 24). There would be no need to "make" God share in man’s adventure or be affected by human actions according to Whitehead, for such is the nature of God: "Decay, Transition, Loss, Displacement belong to the essence of Creative Advance" (Al 368-69). White-head’s deity continually challenges the status quo to increase beauty and suffers from the lack of harmony among actualities. God’s own suffering and his patient activity provide a model for the rebel upon which to build a just civilization. Camus speaks favorably of Dionysus, the god torn apart by the Titans, as one who represents "the agonized beauty that coincides with suffering" (Rb 74). Such statements indicate that both Camus and Whitehead agree that God is not separable from the consequences of reality. For this reason it is doubtful that Tillich’s "God beyond God" would be acceptable to Camus. While Tillich provides a system to overcome the subject-object dilemma of Cartesianism, he denies that Being-itself is actually increased or decreased by events, i.e., it is not in process, and, therefore, does not share in human adventures.5 Camus’ position implies that if there is a God, such a God would be tolerable only if God is involved in the struggle of man’s existence.

I have not attempted to judge the validity or the coherency of Whitehead’s conception of God. I have been concerned to demonstrate that Camus’ writings leave open the possibility of God as understood by Whitehead, and that Camus’ thoughts on rebellion and its source in the beauty of nature are compatible with and made consistent by a process notion of God. That such a God is attractive to Camus is evident by a quotation he cites in his notebook (which Whitehead himself could have stated): "Coming to God because you are detached from the earth and because pain has separated you from the world is useless. God needs souls attached to the world. It is your joy that gratifies him (N 82). Camus’ search for a transcendence that validates a rebel’s struggle for beauty and justice fell short of its goal -- to name the god. "If we could name it, what silence would follow," says Camus about the illusive transcendence that remained for him an agnostos theos (L 170). With the aid of process thought, however, this "new god" may leave the nourishing but dark womb of Camus’ aesthetic intuition and enter into the debate of collective consciousness.



AC -- Nathan A. Scott. Albert Camus. Folcroft: The Folcroft Press, 1969.

C -- Albert Camus. Caligula and Three Other Plays. Tr. Stuart Gilbert. New York: Vintage Books, 1958.

L -- Albert Camus. Lyrical and Critical Essays. Ed. Philip Thody and tr. Ellen Conroy Kennedy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968.

MS -- Albert Camus. The Myth of Sisyphus. Tr. Justin O’Brien. New York: Vintage Books, 1960.

N -- Albert Camus. Notebooks 1942-1951. Tr. Justin O’Brien, New York: The Modern Library, 1965.

PL -- Hans Jonas. The Phenomenon of Life. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.

PPCT -- Process Philosophy and Christian Thought. Ed. Delwin Brown, Ralph James, and Gene Reeves. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971.

Rb -- Albert Camus. The Rebel. Tr. Anthony Bowar. New York: Vintage Books, 1960.

RG -- Schubert M. Ogden. The Reality of God and Other Essays. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.

RRD -- Albert Camus. Resistance, Rebellion, and Death. Tr. Justin O’Brien. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961.

TPS -- R.W.B. Lewis, The Picaresque Saint. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1961.

While I have followed the standard English translations in citing references to Camus’ works, any deviations from the English text are based upon my own translation from the French.



1 Bernard C. Murchland, C.S.C., "Albert Camus: The Dark Night before the Coming of Grace?" Camus: A Collection of Critical Essays. ed. Germaine Bree (Englewood Cliffs Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962), p. 64. In fairness to Murchland it should be noted that he wrote his article prior to Camus’ death.

2 The word "tender" (tendresse) is used throughout Camus’ works to indicate that the world’s unjust murder of man is not done out of anger or vengeance. It leaves the world neutral in regard to an individual’s fate.

3 Such a remark indicates Camus had a naive understanding of Greek life and politics.

4 I have chosen to translate formel as "static" when it modifies value and as "formal" when it qualifies art, because Camus’ usage is confusing. He opposes formel value because it binds reality to changeless concrete content, whereas he opposes formel art because it lacks any concrete content. Camus prefers both value to be "dynamic, i.e., to be expressions of the changing relationship between nature and history.

5 Paul Tillich, " Reply to Interpretation and Criticism," The Theology of Paul Tillich. ed. Charles W. Kegley and Robert XV. Bretall (New York: Macmillan, 1964). pp. 339-42. For a critique of Tillich’s position from a process point of view, see Charles Hartshorne, "Tillich’s Doctrine of God," ibid., pp. 164-97.